BROOKSVILLE — A 20-year-old man accused of fatally injuring his girlfriend's 1-year-old son was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter by culpable negligence.
David McBurnett initially faced a charge of first-degree murder after the child, Hunter Lee Morris, died Sept. 12 following a number of injuries that authorities said were caused by abuse.
Authorities said McBurnett beat his girlfriend's son for months, leaving him bruised, broken and nearly brain-dead. He faced life in prison.
But in Circuit Judge Jack Springstead's courtroom Thursday, McBurnett accepted a plea deal that would send him to prison for two years, including 273 days served in county jail, and four years of probation.
McBurnett was sentenced as a youthful offender, allowing him the chance to enter a boot camp program that lasts 120 days and could shorten his stay in prison.
Also in the courtroom Thursday was the child's mother, Breanna Underwood, and a family member who sat in the front row of the court. Underwood cried throughout the hearing and later declined a chance to address McBurnett in court.
Following the sentencing, Underwood's relative loudly complained that McBurnett had gotten away with murder. But his attorney, Ellis Faught, Jr. of Brandon, reiterated that McBurnett's plea was proof that he never physically abused the baby.
"He never touched the child," Faught said. "There was child abuse going on but he's not the one who did it. I can't say any more about that."
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, the county's chief homicide prosecutor, said the investigation was ongoing.
"It would be inappropriate of me to say what could or couldn't take place in the future," he said. "But it's unfortunate when you're dealing with homicides such as these. They're always challenging."
Underwood and McBurnett, an unemployed laborer, lived with his mother near Istachatta. The abuse allegedly began in March 2009, when Hunter was just 6 months old, reports stated. Deputies arrested McBurnett on Sept. 11 on a charge of aggravated child abuse, a week after Hunter was taken to the emergency room with internal bleeding, a fractured rib and bruises that likely left him brain-dead, reports state.
A day after the arrest, Hunter died, and deputies added a murder charge.
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.